The Freshman Experience: Then and Now

Freshman experience new realities in the face of non-traditional learning models

Four years ago I began my own high school journey. On my first day of school I arrived an hour early, received my schedule in the gym, walked around to all of my classes and became awestruck when I witnessed a half-bearded senior skateboard onto campus last minute, holding only a notebook. 

Freshman year acts as a bridge from middle school to high school, but how does the experience change when you are stuck behind a computer? 

Vandana Kumar 

Vandana Kumar, a freshman at Woodbridge High, takes courses through the IUSD Virtual Academy (IVA) program. 

“All I do every day is sit in front of my computer and do work,” Kumar said. 

Like many Woodbridge high students acknowledge, online learning requires a lot of patience and painstaking focus.

“The internet cutting out is pretty frustrating since it’s usually in the middle of a class, and there isn’t really any way to let the teacher know,” Kumar said. 

Even connecting to the school culture is a challenge when working from home. 

“It just feels like I am still in middle school. There have not been very many changes. The only difference is this year, I do not know my teachers or classmates personally,” Kumar said. 

Kumar has teachers from across the district, which adds to the complexity of feeling a part of a unique community. Many traditional elements of high school are not feasible due to the restrictions imposed by COVID-19.  

“I’m not in any extracurriculars this year since most of them require at least a little in person interaction,” Kumar said.  “One of the challenges these days is having an excuse to go outside or even trying to feel connected to other people at school.” 

For recreation, Kumar has picked up sewing as an activity, which began with mask making and has expanded to larger pieces of clothing.   

Despite the new challenges, Kumar feels indifferent about virtual learning.

Yuval Pesok 

Freshman Yuval Pesok has adjusted to the hybrid model. Pesok feels confident academically but admits that school is not the same. 

“I don’t really feel as part of the community…The atmosphere of the school feels a little different,” Pesok said. 

Amidst COVID-19, freshmen participating in the hybrid learning model experience Woodbridge High in cohorts.  

The social freedoms of advancing to high school, such as going off campus for lunch have not yet presented themselves. 

There have not been many opportunities [to meet] new friends because of the new covid procedures,” Pesok said.

Pesok reflects on the changes to education, all happening during the transition to high school. 

“To be honest doing a hybrid model there really isn’t as much motivation for school as there usually is,” Pesok said. “I feel like these changes are what are needed for the school and the safety of the school, even though I might not like them they are important.”

Sana Jatana 

Irvine Virtual Academy student and freshman Sana Jatana has embraced the school year behind her computer. 

“Transitioning into high school was a lot easier than I expected, Jatana said. “Because I am taking online classes, I feel like a lot of pressure was taken off.” 

Jatana acknowledges the difficulty of branching out socially and staying in touch.

“A large portion of my friends from middle school did hybrid, unlike me, so I haven’t been able to really see them since March” Jatana said. 

Despite feeling disconnected from others, Sana participates in the United Student Union Organization club.

“Our biggest challenge… is finding one meeting time that goes with everyone’s schedules so we can work together on projects,” Jatana said.  

Jatana likes the freedom of digital block schedule and having a longer period of time to complete assignments. However, adapting to the high school curriculum can also provide a challenge.  

“I’ve definitely felt lost and overwhelmed in some of my classes so far,” Jatana said. 

The transition back to school will also represent some unique challenges for this year’s freshman, including finding their classes. 

Jonathan Troung 

Woodbridge Junior Jonathan Troung looks back on his conventional freshman experience. 

“On my first day as a freshman at Woodbridge High, I went to the wrong class every single class and ended up being late to every single class,” Troung said. 

Despite the initial adjustment period, Troung quickly made friends with the people in his classes, on his sports teams and soon felt connected to the Warrior community.

Troung recalls participating in a few extracurriculars offering hands-on experiences, volunteer hours and opportunities to expand his friendships during his freshman year. However, certain in-person activities, like sports practices, continue during digital learning providing a balance Troung prefers.  

“… [] If I was a freshman during 2020, I would actually enjoy it a bit more,” Troung said. “This is just my opinion, however, because I prefer staying home on zoom calls [rather] than physically going to school.” 

Despite the adjustment to non-traditional learning platforms, freshmen will also face a tougher curriculum in their forthcoming years of high school. 

“My advice for the freshman right now is to take your classes seriously and do not slack off,” Troung said. “Sophomore and junior years will hit you like a sledgehammer.”